The Monotonous Mysteries of Modern Day Hiking or We’re from the government and we’re here to help you.

So on today’s list of things to look at for the upcoming section hike was the hashing process of how far I will hike.  The initial thought of the hike in it’s infancy was to start at Fontana Dam and hike into the GSMNP (Great Smoky Mountains National Park) and exit somewhere from there to meet the family on vacation in the Smokies.  Upon learning of the new government regulations requiring I pay for a back country permit, and worse yet, register for space at specific shelter(s) before getting there, I decided to alter the plan and avoid the Smokies and start at the NOC (Nantahala Outdoor Center) and hike into Fontana Dam.

Please understand, I’ve never done a section hike on the AT.  I’ve hiked some GSMNP park trails in the past and done a proper share of hiking locally (if you can call three states around me local). So to say I have any experience with sleeping in the shelters would be a gross understatement and an outright lie. My dad would have said, “Boy that’s not just a lie, it’s a dang lie.”  Ah, the well turned phaseology of Pops, but I digress.  In my present mind, I have no use for shelters. I have extensive experience backwoods camping with my hammock and tarp and feel safer in it than if I were sitting in my own car.  I’ve weathered some of the worst that nature can dish out from lightning storms to bitter sub freezing cold.  All safe and warm in my hammock and tarp.  Did I mention I have no use for shelters?  So the thought of being forced to use a shelter against my will grates on my over developed sense of civil liberties.

Now enter the secondary issue I’m struggling with. Mileage. What is reasonable, what is doable and where will I end up.  For me the thought of a planned 10 mile +/- hike that may only take me six hours to do then sitting around a shelter for the next four hours until it gets dark and hiker midnight sets in to sleep is abhorrent.  I’d rather be hiking.  Almost as distasteful is to put in 15 to 17 mile days that may leave me too wasted to enjoy the process.

The AT is a mystery to me. I can read a dozen books, and I have, talk to dozens of people who have hiked it, and I have but at the end of the day this information is based on their experience, planning, fitness level and motivation.  They ain’t me, nor am I they.

So here I sit, with a plan A trying to add a plan B in the hip pocket if things turn out far better than I had hoped. From the NOC to Sassafras Gap Shelter is 6.9 miles. Sassafras to Brown Fork Gap Shelter is 9.1 miles. Brown Fork to Cable Gap Shelter is 6.1 miles. Then lastly from Cable Gap to Fontana Dam Shelter is 7.3 miles.  That is three days on the trail and plan A. Benefits are shorter hikes, shorter days, less stress on the body and no issues on hanging my hammock in the general vicinity.  So what if things go super well the first day? Well then we adjust to plan B which would be NOC to Sassafras Gap Shelter on the first half day and 6.9 miles. Then Sassafras Gap to Cable Gap Shelter for the second day and first full day on the trail and 15.2 miles. Day three would be Cable Gap to Mollies Ridge Shelter and 17.6 miles and probably a desperate plea for a knee transplant.  Day four would be from Mollies Ridge to Silers Bald Shelter and another 17.5 mile day.  Knocking off that 0.1 of a mile will make me fresh as a daisy although I’ll probably look like a blackeyed susan. Then lastly, Silers Blad to Clingmans Dome; just a mere 4.6 miles to my shuttle pickup to take me to meet my family for vacation, or perhaps a visit to the hospital.  Not sure which because as I’ve said, it’s all a mystery.  Benefits of plan B are lots more miles on the trail. Definitely full days with no down time for being idle or petulant. Lot more scenery to see and a better brag of what I did on my time off. Petty? Yes. Honest? You bet your sweet bippie. Plan A is 29.4 miles and Plan B is 61.8 miles.

So whatever is a soul to do? Don’t know. Hello!! Sensing a theme here? Mystery? I still have no idea what I will do.  All I can think of at this point is see how the first half day goes and make a call from that.  I like the idea of taking it one day at a time anyway. I don’t intend to rush.  I really want to savor the experience but still do it all at whatever pace I feel, both mentally and physically, is appropriate.

I know I have a deeper respect for those who do thru hike the AT. The level of planning and consideration of mileage is truly amazing if not pathological. And my friends think I’m crazy doing 4 1/2 days alone on the trail. Yea, right.  I also have a new found distaste for government regulation. The GSMNP is the only place on the entire 2178 miles of AT trail that this type of reservation domination occurs. Why? I get you want to minimize the impact on the trail in the most visited national park in the U.S.. However, was there no other alternative than to completely screw with every section and thru hiker that goes through the park? Perchance this will go away although I’ve not seen many government regulations turned back and few that were done quickly.

Not to worry.  I’m a pantheologist.  Not a person who believes in many gods. Rather a believer who just knows it’s all gonna pan out in the end. The one overriding rule of this will be….have fun manerd! Don’t screw that up and it’ll all be good.  How much are knee replacement surgeries these days anyway?

Section Hike Preparations – It’s on now.

By the calendar, as of yesterday April 21st it is exactly 30 days until I fly to Atlanta to catch my shuttle to the AT for my section hike.

Thirty days seems like a long time…to some. I still have a packing list to make, a few more pieces of gear to make, perhaps a few more meals to prep and a good bit more study and praying to do.

I did get a chance this past weekend to do some cooking and dehydrating of some meals.  That went well and I am now working on the packaging of the meals. This may seem a simple task but I am finding there is an art to this as much as anything else I’ve encountered. The first test meals, prototypes, if you will, tasted excellent.  Score one for the home hiker gourmet in me.  However, the packaging left a bit to be desired. The noodles in one of the packages, once vacuum sealed, began to poke holes in the plastic bag when packed and hauled around.  This was done to simulate trail miles and the stresses the meals will be under in a pack and moving around.  So now I’m working on how to buffer the meal in the plastic vacuum bag. The lightest and simplest option is a bit of paper towel between the meal and the side of the bag.  This works really well but then there is the issue of getting the towel out prior to re-hydration.  Yea, I know, “pull it out doofensmirtz”.  Sure, but when you are trying to maximize the amount of meal items in a bag this complicates the process. I’m attempting to package a meat meal with something like instant potatoes or Knorr pasta so it is all in one container but compartmentalized and easy to manage both for packing, meal planning and use. I still have to pack out what I pack in in the way of trash so keeping that to a minimum is crucial to me.  I don’t like the thought of hauling around trash for the better part of a week and certainly not more than I can absolutely cull it down.

I’ve also purchased a new GPS.  After seeing a couple in action at a recent hike/hang in Alabama, I decided to take the plunge.  This is not so much for navigation purposes as I am extremely comfortable with my topo maps and compass of the section I’m going to hike. This is more for judging distance traveled or to travel and keeping track of places I want to make note of on trip reports, etc. I worry most about missing a water source. I already consume a respectable amount of water on a daily basis. This will only increase on the hike and running short is not something I want to face.  I hope to be the guy at the shelter who is helping everyone else with their water needs from my abundance. Got what I think is a really good deal on a GPS on Ebay and I’ll need a little time to familiarize myself with it and its functions. One more thing on the list of gotta get done.

Packing the pack is still a concern. I feel like I’ll be tweaking this up to and even on the trail. There’s a lot of ways to skin a cat. I’ve shucked this Slyvester a half dozen ways already and am still tweaking. Or is that twerking? No, Lord help us, that is tweaking.  The clothing options will be changing right up until the night before my flight I know. I’ll be scouring weather channels and reports on the interweb making certain I know all the possibilities of temp ranges and precipitation or lack there of to expect. I have to pack two bags as I’ll be meeting my wife and kids in TN when I’m done so we can vacation and have some fun. This will certainly complicate things a tad.

Still lots to do and just 30 short days to do it in. Still feels like a million miles away and like tomorrow all in the same instant. I can’t believe I’m gonna do this. I can’t believe my wife is not having a heart attack about me doing this. I still haven’t told my mother. She’s 85 and I’m the baby, if you can call a 6′ 3″ 225lb. man a baby. She would have a fit and worry herself sick about it. I’ve told her many times, what’s the difference between a car or a bear. I’m just as dead either way. At least one way I’ll likely have a smile on my face from doing something I love.  At least right up to the point where the bear eats my face.  I’m not fool hardy. I take common sense precautions and I’ve got a real good radar for stupid. I don’t do stupid. I try not to hang out with stupid but the general population if rife with it so whatcha gonna do?

I hope to post a little bit on my meal preps and how the GPS learning curve will go. I’d like to post on my packing prep as well. It will be anal retentive and a little over the top but if it gives me peace of mind and keeps me from forgetting something important then it’s worth it.  Until then, get outside for Pete sake. You read too many blogs.  You’re pale. Get some sun and fresh air.  Take a friend with you. Go poke the bear.  Just run faster than your friend.

Dogwoods and tulips – Fond Memories

It’s spring in Mississippi and two my favorite flowers or flowering plants are making me remember.

For me it’s not spring until I see the Dogwood start to bloom out.  Easter is a little late on the calendar this year but usually it is right at or around Easter when they bloom out so pretty.  I always notice a Dogwood tree. I never pass up the opportunity to appreciate it’s beauty and to remember the little Dogwood that my dad had in the front yard of my childhood home.  I never think of Dogwoods that I don’t think about my dad.  He’s been dead just over 12 years now and as I write about it is seems like yesterday. I miss my dad. I miss his strong hand on everything that took place around him in our family.  Things never got too far gone that daddy couldn’t reign us all in with a look or, if need be, a more commanding “that’s enough”.

I believed my dad could put pencils in the ground and grow pine trees.  He was a master gardener. I played under a particular pecan tree in our backyard that he grafted himself from stock he found in the backwoods. A tree that a local pecan orchard offered him a substantial amount of money if he would let them take the tree and use cuttings from it to make a multitude of other pecan trees (it was that unusually great for commercial pecans).  He refused. Just couldn’t bear to cut the tree down or use it up that way. Too many years invested in nurturing it, protecting it and loving it into maturity. He knew that tree deeply. He did the same for all four of his children. Yea, Dogwoods remind me of my dad….I miss my dad.

Then there’s the tulips.  I fell in love with tulips about the time I had my first really real, sure enough, bonafide, hopelessly head over heels, love.  I was blessed enough to have a chance to spend the better part of eight months living in The Netherlands working as a semester missionary at a small church in the little town of Wassenaar.  That was 28 years ago and as I write this it still feels like yesterday.  Oh how I loved The Netherlands.  All green and lush, and crowded together, and full of color and life.  It was a 180° different world from Misssissippi to be certain. I would ride my motorcycle, really a moped but it looked like a dirt bike, to the beach almost every day to see the sun set over the North Sea.  And the smells. What glorious aromas came from that land. Fresh cheese, stropewaffles on the street, pannekokken, flowers everywhere and the tulips. Acres of them in too many colors to remember.  The smell I remember most, the one that transports and raptures me back to The Netherlands, is the mix of soil, and dung and peat that you get as you ride through the country side.  Folks who live there will know what I’m writing about. It’s indescribable. For some it’s detestable. To me, it’s a perfume unlike any other.

I miss The Netherlands. I had a wonderful time there. I grew so much as a person, on my own, tending to the lives and hearts of others and learning who I was and what I could do on a grand adventure. It was a beautiful time of my life. One I will treasure until my Savior takes me home. I hope heaven is a little like The Netherlands.

Dogwoods and tulips. Two of my favorite things in this world. Reminding me of the best man I ever knew and some of the best moments of my life. Oh that my God would bless the lives of those who so richly touched mine in The Netherlands. Oh that he would tell my daddy that his boy misses him and will see him again soon. Thanks to the hope we share in a Savior named Jesus Christ, who made it all possible.  Who made it all. So we would remember.  Christ is risen and I am free.

First Aid Kit – What a relief

With the impending section hike now on the horizon, one of the matters of concern for me was a FAK or First Aid Kit.  Admittedly, I am no doctor and I genuinely stink as a patient. I do follow orders well.  I’m nothing if not obedient.  Chalk that up to the Navy/OCD father I grew up knowing, loving and, in some small way, aspiring to be like.  I have been Red Cross trained on CPR adult and infant and I have the general understanding on how to stop bleeding, close a wound, or administer general first aid. While I’m really calm in a major crisis, just one of my many stupid human tricks, I wouldn’t be able to reattach a severed appendage or do a field tracheotomy.  If you’re as old as me you just had a flash of Radar and Father Mulcahy doing that on an episode of M.A.S.H..  Cool, old farts unite!

So I did a little research among my hammock peers and asked a few open ended questions then scoured the local Walgreen’s, CVS, Fred’s, Dollar Tree, WalMart, and Dollar General for the items I felt I needed to complete my FAK.  I just realized I have every one of those stores in a two mile radius of each other in my home town.  Not sure what that says about my city.  Not sure what that says about me, but I digress.

Here are a few shots of my kit.  What I carried it all in was a important to me as what I put into the carrier.  This is, in fact, a diabetic travel pack.  Meant to carry the monitor, insulin, sharps, etc.  Since it unzipped and had pockets I felt it fit the bill nicely.  It isn’t ultralight but I’ll stress over that at a later date. 

FAK zipped

Here is the carry opened up.  I liked the pockets and a simple divider on one side.  Something that appeals to the OCD in me as well.

FAK open

Lastly, the contents of the FAK.  I know this will change over time as I find other lighter options and other items to add or things to remove.   Contents: Neosporan spray, in straws - ibuprofin, tylenol ;sealed pack imodium, BC powder, wound clot, steri stripes, Kinetic tape, mole skin, mirror, super glue, tick twist, folding scissors, spray hand sanitizer, cotton balls, safty pins, nail clippers, toothbrush w/paste, razor blade, aquamira, toothpicks. (not shown): tweezers, needle/thread.

FAK contents

This seems to be a pretty good set up for me.  I say that to emphasize the point that what works for me may not be the thing for others.  Everyone has their own ways to manage pain, medicate, and deal with their own particular basket of ailments and maladies. The idea of physician heal thyself may apply here and you’ll know what will work best for you.  Hopefully this will give you an idea or two and get your motor running on what you would include in your own version of a FAK.

I know that this has proven to be a valuable asset to me already.  At a group hang/hike this past weekend a fellow hammock guy was complaining about a sinus headache.  Others around the campfire were offering up what they had, tylenol, ibuprophin, etc.  I asked what he was dealing with and offered up a BC powder packet from my FAK. He jumped on it and stated he was much improved the next morning. This was great but where the kit really showed its worth was earlier in the day when a sudden attack of the galloping giddy ups hit me on the trail. First time I thought it was no big deal but the second event another 30 minutes later told me I was in trouble unless I did something about it. FAK to the rescue as I had some imodium in the kit. I never take the stuff in my normal day to day breathing in and out. The fact that I had it was a matter of Divine intervention in my opinion and the rest of the hike was UNeventful in that department. I won’t leave home without my FAK ever again.  

Go do a little research and make a list of what you think you would use and set up your own FAK. You’ll be glad you did.  It was certainly a relief to me.

I Kilt Myself

Well I promised a post on a surprise fashion statement a bit back so here it is.  

Noah and Kilted Father

Yes, that is me in a kilt.  Not a dress, a skirt or, heaven help us, skorts.  The better looking fellow to the right is my A number 1 son, chief hiking partner and all around best kid I know.   He gets bonus points because he thinks dad in a kilt is okay.  

I am a member of a hammock forum (hammockforums.net) and there are a number of men there who have taken to hiking in kilts. It is a topic of intermittent discussion and has a lot of people interested and thinking on the subject if not actually pulling the trigger and jumping in with both feet. I’ll wait for you to form the mental image of someone jumping into a kilt with….aahhhh, there it is. SO the topic has been discussed and I’ve looked several times at different vendors but not until I decided to do this section hike on the AT was it a matter of true consideration.  Hold on. That’s a lie.  Truth was I was doing what all men do.  We make up our mind on something then we wait for, work on, manufacture or manipulate a justification why this or that is what we are going to do. I wanted to do this from the start and the AT hike was the excuse I needed to justify the choice, if not explain it to some level.  Ok, that feels better to come clean on that.  It should also be stated that I have some Scots/Irish heritage and kilts are a part of that culture and thus I wanted that to be part of me in this day.

The boy and I went hiking this past weekend in a particular slice of heaven in northwest Alabama called the Sipsey Wilderness and so I took the opportunity to try out the kilt in a real world hiking experience.  

I found it to be a breath of fresh air.  I’ll wait for you to….oh, never mind, you’re already there.  In comparison to hiking in pants or shorts, I found it to be cooler. As the day went on and the temperature increased and we were up on the ridges, I could feel a remarkable difference in the temperature…down…there. Can you tell this is awkward to write about?

Bottom line is, it was a more comfortable mode of apparel for hiking than I imagined and like the look as well.  I caught a lot of ribbing from the other guys at camp but I gave as good as I got on that score.  The funny part was that for every guy who gave me the business about the kilt, there were just as many who wanted to know where I got it, how was it to wear and did I like it or not.  Some of whom were the same guys wearing me out about it in front of the others. 

One other item of note.  You need to be secure in who you are to go this route, if not someone who has a mischievous streak.  I am fortunate to have both.  I took great pleasure in the looks, turned to stares, turned to “Ooo, I got busted”, turned to hushed whispers from folks I passed in public places. There were more than a few smiles from pretty ladies which, in my book is a bonus. Now if I can just convince the boss to make this standard issue work uniform.  What?  It could happen.

The Fear…

Irrational fear.  One of the more self explanatory terms I know of. This type of fear doesn’t make sense, at least not to those hearing or seeing it exhibited in the person having it, and sometimes not even to the person having the fear.  A pastor friend of mine is highly claustrophobic. Hates enclosed, tight spaces.  He is a large man. Not fat, just a big guy. A man’s man at that. So to see him and to hear or know he has that fear is, well, irrational.  Hence the definition.

As I’m planning on this section hike, there are a lot of things I find myself being fearful about. Now, let’s be clear. Not terrified.  Not frozen with fear. Just anxious about things that I really should not be anxious about.

For example, rain.  Have I seen rain before? Yes. Have I gotten wet in the past and not freaked out about it? Yes. Am I worried about rain on this section hike? Yes, yes I am. Why?  I really don’t know. I have rain gear, a pack cover, and the dry things will be able to stay dry as I have packed appropriately. Will things get wet that shouldn’t? Of course they will.  I am a strong believer in Murphy.  He WILL show up and mess with you at any and every opportunity.  Planning and organization are strong banes to this imp but stuff will happen.  So, why worry about the rain?  Still don’t know. Maybe hypothermia is in the back of my mind.  Maybe it’s just the thought of being alone in the “wilderness” in foul weather.  Oh, and in the interest of full disclosure, severe weather doesn’t worry me.  I know, crazy right?  This is why they call it irrational fear.  I have often slept through tornadoes, watched as they have gone by (obviously many miles away), marveled at lightning storms and slept through those as well, tied to trees in a hammock no less. Why on earth would a little rain bother me? Don’t know. Sincerely.

Also, critters getting my food.  I have everything that I need to properly bag and hang my food to keep it reasonably out of the reach and off the olfactory radar of the general critter population.  Still can’t shake the fear they are going to masterfully abscond with my food stuffs half way in on my hike and I’ll be stuck hiking at least one if not two days with no food.  I have a public but well respected love affair with food. I won’t say I live to eat but I do love good food.  Being on the trail tends to increase my appetite two or three fold.  Many have marveled at the copious amounts of food I can put away and still be willing to graze or snack on a whim.  Could this really happen? Sure.  Is it likely? Not likely, given the measures put in place. Again, irrational.  See previous definition.

Will I overcome the fear?  I have no choice, at least in my own mind.  I’m going on this hike and will complete it.  I might even add to it should my pace and timing prove faster than planned.  It’s a new thing, to be certain. New things can be fearful.  However, they can also be exciting.  It’s a thin line between fear and exhilaration. Whenever possible I’m choosing to shove the emotion over to the exhilaration side of the fence….hard.  The fact that my friends, who don’t hang in hammocks, don’t hike and don’t get outdoors, are freaking out over these very things is almost a comfort to me. I know, sick isn’t it?  See, I know I can do it. I’ve been wet, cold, hungry, tired, hot, and lonely before.  Still breathing in and out.  Certainly enough to blog about it.

SO!  Once more into the breech my friends. I’m going and nothing will stop me.  Not even my irrational fears.  Now that plane falling out of the sky…..

It’s harder than it looks

So having embarked on the section hike planning in earnest the above phrase is coming to mind more and more as I work on this trip.  I am roughly two months away which at first seems like a long time and will it ever get here.  Then suddenly it seems like I will not have enough time to do all that I need to do to be prepared.  Fitness, FAK (first aid kit) setup, logistics, meals, travel, and the thousand other things I haven’t thought of.  I hear Donald Rumsfeld in my ear going, “We have known unknowns and unknown  unknowns, and things we know we know. Then there’s the other stuff your forgetting manerd.”  Out damn spot, out!  Maybe I should attempt a post were everything is a quote from a movie, TV show or play.  Let’s save that for another time, shall we.

Take travel for instance.  I live in Mississippi and want to get to Atlanta, GA.  Please know that MS is no longer in the stone age.  Heck, we’ve even progressed past the steam age.  We wear shoes and everything and I quit dating my sister years ago. Unfortunately with all those advances in technology, transportation and moral and genetic tomfoolery done with, it’s harder than it looks.

The initial idea was to take the bus.  Know that I haven’t ridden a commercial public transit bus in over two decades.  I’m praying things have advanced but I’m told, not really.  I’m okay with it cause it’s cheap. As of this posting, $50 one way to Atlanta, GA.  That’s cheap.  Less than a tank of gas that would definitely not get me to Atlanta in my personal car.  I’m willing to dive into the deep end of the people of WalMart gene pool to save a few bucks.  Problem is, I have to catch a bus at 4 a.m. to be in Atlanta by 2 p.m. the same day.  Still not bad but a long ride to be certain.  Also, there is the unbelievable security measures for the luggage on the bus.  I’m going on a hike.  There are certain thing you take with you on a hike.  Knife, cook kit, fuel, tent stakes…all verboten for even checked luggage under the bus.  I understand the fuel. I get that.  But the rest, under the bus while I’m ridding in the bus at 70 MPH.  How am I gonna get to the tent stake to hold at the driver’s throat to hi-jack the bus so we can go to Disney where I can seek asylum in the It’s a Small World After All ride instead of going to Atlanta?

Now I’m looking to just fly.  Decidedly, not cheap, but still cheaper than driving myself and dealing with a car left behind.  Plus, I can pack anything into the backpack, sans fuel, and check the baggage and travel in half the time and twice the style. Karma will likely put me next to a two year old with an ear ache at 10,000 feet.  That’ll teach me to pee in the bus gene pool.

Now I have to decide departure dates. Trying to save vacation days, which are like gold, for the end of the year when I can have some extra quality time with the wife and kids. Price matters here as well since the flight is over $100 cheaper if I leave on a Wednesday instead of a Thursday.  Oh well, one extra day on the trail.  A couple more meals to pack.

I think the physical exertion on the trail will be a welcome respite compared to this madness.

I hope to post on the FAK I’m setting up later this weekend and perhaps a surprise in the clothing department. Scary!

Till then…..HYOH.